09 August 2010

Soay and Gavin Maxwell

Gavin Maxwell is perhaps best known for his book, "Ring of Bright Water," about his life with otters in a remote part of Scotland.

What is less known is that, after first looking at a map of Scotland during the war in 1940, and dreaming of buying an island there, he drew "an extra red ring round the Island of Soay," an island of which he knew nothing and had never visited. Three years later, he went to Soay and had a few hours ashore. Within a year or so, he had bought it.

Soon after, in 1944, he saw a basking shark for the first time. This excited him greatly, but mostly, it seems, with the desire to kill it. This experience led him to start up a shark fishing enterprise for the purpose of obtaining oil. He built a factory in the harbour as a base for this.

Below is the factory site seen from the other side of the harbour.

The store-house

The engine

View from the store-house window.

Rather fortunately for the sharks (which were not then legally protected, although they are now), the fishery was doomed to failure, and by 1949 it had ceased.

The story is told fully in Gavin Maxwell's book, "Harpoon at a Venture"

Further links:

Gavin Maxwell (Writer) 1914-1968

Gavin Maxwell (Wikipedia)

Gavin Maxwell (Undiscovered Scotland)

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